At 17 years old, the Archaeology Live! training excavation is fast approaching adulthood, so what better time to flick through our proverbial baby pictures? We’ve been lucky enough to have excavated some incredible sites in the years since 2001 but our original home at St Leonard’s will always have a special place in our heart. Here, we’ve done a spot of digital digging, raided the archives and reproduced the 2004 team’s recollections of this amazing site.
A shot of the site looking towards the Multangular tower
If you wish to start at the very beginning, here are the tales of our first three years.
A History of Archaeology Live! Year One
A History of Archaeology Live! Year Two
A History of Archaeology Live! Year Three
The first week of the final season of excavation got off to a good start, with the first batch of trainees digging in the trenches immediately after their induction in the morning. The first day was particularly hectic, with the opening of the site by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Janet Looker, being followed by a live broadcast from the site by the local ITV company. The trainees mostly worked in Trench 3, under the shelter acquired last year, but we were also able to make good progress in Trench 5. There were over 900 visitors, despite the mixed weather.
Fragment of stamped Samian pottery
Excavation of the second Roman legionary fortress rampart, associated with the stone defensive walls and towers, commenced in Trench 3. Several mixed deposits were encountered, indicating that material from a variety of sources had been brought in to form the rampart. Some of this material was apparently domestic in origin, as it was ashy in places and contained a range of artefacts, such as pottery, glass and animal bone suggestive of domestic activity.
At first glance these finds date to the 1st-2nd centuries AD, which does not dispel the notion that the rampart was constructed around AD 200.
The base of a Roman glass vessel
In the north-east part of Trench 5 the earliest of several cinder and gravel paths within the 19th century Garden of Antiquities was excavated (the later path surfaces had been excavated towards the end of 2003). Beneath this path was a mixed layer of soil and rubble, which is thought to represent 19th century landscaping of the site. In the centre of the trench, excavation of a probable 19th-century excavation pit, exposed in the side of the Second World War air-raid shelter that occupies the entire south-west half of Trench 5, began. A Roman coin and a fragment of a medieval coin were found in this pit fill.
Excavating the 19th century excavation pit
Medieval silver coin; Roman coin
Excavating the Roman rampart in Trench 3, looking towards the back of the rampart. Note the ashy layer (foreground)
Despite another week of unsettled weather the excavation progressed well. There were some 1,100 visitors, bringing the overall total to around 2,000. Several groups of schoolchildren had a great time taking part in special activities including digging, sieving and finds washing.
In Trench 3 the excavation of the second Roman fortress rampart continued. It is becoming clear that the rampart deposits are very mixed. Some were thick and extensive, but others appear to be no bigger than basketloads. These deposits are thought to be mostly derived from human activity. They were quite ashy in places and generally contained large quantities of abraded finds, which suggests they were originally layers of ‘rubbish’ that had been dug up to be used in the rampart. Finds included more decorated Samian pottery, copper alloy studs with glass inlay decoration, and a startling eye from an unusual Roman head pot.
Excavating the Roman rampart. The ground slope in the foreground is the original slope at the rear of the rampart
Work commenced on re-opening part of Trench 4, in order to expose a previously excavated stretch of the medieval stone drain to public view.
Good progress was made in Trench 5 excavating the fills of 19th and 20th century excavation trenches, revealing a probable medieval column foundation. The significance of this discovery is that the 19th century excavators thought they had located the north-west end of the medieval infirmary at this point, whereas it now seems the infirmary extended further to the north-west. It is therefore possible that the medieval builders used the south side of the Roman Multangular Tower to form the end of the infirmary block, which implies that the Multangular Tower survived into the medieval period. This medieval feature, and its relationship with the Multangular Tower, will be carefully examined over the next few weeks.
The eye from a Roman head pot
A fragment of decorated Samian pottery
The weather held good for most of the week with one or two downpours dampening the soil – but not the spirits of either the excavators or the visitors. The acquisition of a shelter for Trench 5 further bolstered the morale of the trainees and staff! Even on the wettest days visitors donned boots and waterproofs and came to watch progress from under their umbrellas. Despite the rain, the summer season is clearly upon us as we have been welcoming many visitors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as a steady flow of tourists from all around the UK. The number of visitors to the site topped 3000.
A busy day in Trench 3, under cover from the rain
In Trench 3 we continued to investigate the Roman rampart levels where the build up of layers has become more complicated; even individual bucket-loads of spoil can be identified.
In Trench 5 work continued to expose the line of the wall of the Multangular Tower which had been extensively robbed. Much of this work involves re-examining the trench dug in the 1920s. This trench was found to have cut through a slightly curving 19th century trench, further complicating the stratigraphy in Trench 5.
The 20th century trench (with orange sand fill) under excavation in Trench 5
In the latter part of the week the medieval drain, previously unearthed in Trench 2, was exposed in Trench 4. The next task will be to de-turf the area where Time Team had a small excavation in 1999, revealing the steps down to the World War 2 air raid shelter.
One of the regular school parties carrying out archaeological activities, under cover in the medieval undercroft
Once again trainees have come from all over the world to join us this summer. We have students from Australia, Taiwan, the United States and from Germany – so word of the training opportunities in York is clearly spreading.
There were few finds of especial interest this week but a steady flow of the typical pottery, building material and animal bone will all eventually contribute to our understanding of this complex site in the heart of the ancient city.
Roman Samian pottery with part of the stamp of the maker, Perpetuus of Eastern Gaul. Late 2nd to early 3rd century
The excavation continued uninterrupted despite the continued wet weather. Neither were the visitors put off, another 1,000 visiting the site this week.
Removing the Roman painted wall plaster in Trench 5
The Artefacts and Ecofacts course was held this week, alongside the fieldwork training course. Ten students, from the United States, Switzerland and Sweden as well as Britain, have worked hard learning about bones, pottery, building materials, a range of small finds, and all about methods of conservation, research and display. Finds from some of the Roman rampart deposits from Trench 3 were studied as part of this course. The trainees’ findings largely support our current interpretation of the rampart deposits as being derived from a range of sources, including domestic rubbish, and dating to around AD 200. However, several sherds of Middle Saxon pottery (around AD 650-850) were identified, which provides much food for thought for the excavation team. Perhaps the rampart had been extended by the Anglo-Saxon occupants of what was then known as Eoforwic. It is thought the former Roman fortress was held by the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria at this time, but there has been precious little archaeological evidence of this activity to date.
The 19th century trench under excavation in Trench 5. The string lines represent the approximate position of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower
As work continued in Trench 3 it has become clear that the nature of the deposits forming the later Roman fortress rampart is changing again; there are now signs that these rampart deposits were carefully stacked. It is expected that this will be resolved in the weeks to come.
In Trench 5 the large, curving 19th century excavation trench was excavated, producing large quantities of Roman and medieval brick and tile. On the northern side of the 19th century trench, layers apparently within the rear part of the Multangular Tower have been exposed. A substantial piece of painted wall plaster has been found, and other, smaller pieces are visible, as yet un-excavated, in the section. Such adornment is not what we necessarily associate with a military building, if indeed the plaster does derive from the tower itself. Once the other pieces have been excavated it will be interesting to compare these pieces with other plaster found during excavations elsewhere in the fortress, notably from a possible officer’s house at Blake Street across the road from St Leonard’s.
The large fragment of painted wall plaster from Trench 5
This week we were joined by students from the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium and from elsewhere in Britain. The steady flow of visitors to the site, both foreign tourists and local people, increased as summer holidays got underway. This was another damp week, but merely prompted the acquisition of another shelter to cover Trench 4, and work continued.
Over the weekend we hosted an event as part of National Archaeology Day. Re-enactors from the local group Comitatus and the East Yorkshire section of the World War Two Living History Group formed a ‘history street’ representing the major episodes in the site’s history, from the Roman conquest to World War 2. Russell Marwood of YAT devised a children’s quiz, and ran a war-gaming exhibit. The event was free, and attracted over 2,000 visitors, bringing the total number of visitors to 7,000.
Excavating a turf stack in Trench 3
Trainees were busy this week trowelling through the layers of a large pit. This may originally have been a cess pit cut into the rampart layers but this will not be clear until environmental work is carried out on the soil samples taken from the pit. Work otherwise has concentrated on examining the layers which make up the Roman rampart; surprisingly, some of these deposits appear to be layers of turf.
Work continued in this trench to expose the steps down to the WW 2 air raid shelter. Deposits encountered during this work found fragments of glazed floor tile. Although these were found residually (i.e mixed in with later material), they are of great interest as if they are medieval in date they might help to reconstruct the appearance of the hospital floors.
In Trench 5 work continued examining the deposits associated with the robbed Roman wall of the rear chamber of the Multangular Tower. This had previously been examined by Miller in the 1920s in an effort to understand the extent of the hospital. More Roman plaster, some of it painted with linear coloured scheme, continued to be recovered from these layers and it seems likely that it came from this now robbed out wall. The pieces of painted plaster which had been lifted previously are now undergoing conservation treatment to stabilise it prior to research.
Another wet week made the ground very muddy, and required a protective netting to be laid in order to protect the grass around much of the excavation area (the public route being protected this way since the beginning). This is proving to be a poor summer, such a contrast to the dry summer of 2003. Over the weekend of 24-25 July the site hosted events as part of the York Roman Festival. Again some 2,000 people visited, and the overall number of visitors passed 10,000.
Work continues on the both the layers within the large pit and in the surrounding ramparts. A fascinating picture is beginning to emerge as evidence appears to show that turfs were laid as part of the rampart construction and individual turfs can be seen in the section towards to the top of the trench. Clear differences in soil colour and composition can also be seen but further work needs to take place in order to understand their significance. One exciting find was part of a box flue tile, part of the ingenious heating system use by the Romans. Whether a nearby building enjoyed this luxury or whether this was dumped material from some distance away is not clear, but it is reminder of the sophistication of life in the Roman fortress. A small strap end was also recovered from this trench this week but this awaits cleaning before it can be identified.
The entrance to the Second World War air-raid shelter in Trench 4
Work on re-exposing the steps to the air raid shelter was completed this week. It is anticipated that medieval deposits will be exposed in this trench in the course of the following week. An unusual small wooden object, possibly part of a playing piece or some sort of fitting, was recovered but needs conservation work prior to further investigation.
The Roman rampart revealed in Trench 5
More plaster! As work continues in this trench the quantities of plaster from the robbed wall continue to be recovered, providing new challenges for conservation placements working in the laboratory. On the other side of the trench, effectively outside the Multangular Tower, upon removal of the medieval rubble what appears to be the top of the Roman fortress rampart was encountered. This is further evidence of the large-scale truncation of the rampart as part of the construction of the medieval hospital.
The foundations of internal walls within the Multangular Tower revealed in Trench 6
A new trench was started this week which is designed to look at the internal structure of the Multangular Tower. This has exposed an internal partition wall running across the back of the standing projecting bastion. One objective is to discover the extent of Miller’s 1920s trench; he reported encountering concrete foundations and timber piles. If these are re-discovered there is the potential for dendrochronological dating of these piles which would clearly help enormously in verifying the understood chronology of the early fortress.
Opening the first part of Trench 6
Steady progress was made this week, under the trench covers of course. The trainees were mostly British, but with a strong American contingent. Over 1,500 visitors took the overall visitor total towards 12,000.
Work has concentrated on removing the substantial clay layers which cover the western end of the Roman rampart. These appear to be part of the construction of the rampart where layer upon layer of dumped material was deposited to reach the desired height and width. More evidence of the use of turf in the construction has been found, apparently to form cells which were then infilled with clay and cobbles. Considerable care seems to have been taken in constructing the rampart.
The large pit has finally been bottomed, and once recorded it was backfilled again for safety reasons. Its contents were of a ‘cessy’ character and contained mostly Roman material with one or two pieces of pottery which might, intriguingly, be later. Watch this space!
The Victorian path (centre) cut by the air-raid shelter (foreground). Note the medieval stone-capped drain, originally unearthed in Trench 2 (background).
Recording of the air-raid shelter steps was completed this week, with all the necessary plans drawn and measurements taken in order to preserve, by record, this recent but important bit of York’s history. Further work in the trench revealed a cinder path which probably once wound its way through the Victorian landscaped garden. As might be expected few finds were found associated with this feature.
The final layers representing the demolition of the hospital have been cleared away from the eastern part of this trench, and we were straight down onto Roman deposits with not a hint of the intervening centuries. This, as has been seen elsewhere, is the result of the levelling off the site for the construction of the hospital and, regrettably, has removed whatever evidence there was for the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian activity on top of the fortress rampart. An intriguing feature, a rectangular pit, was encountered just below the final hospital demolition layers. As this disappears into the section there is the possibility that it is a continuation of the L-shaped feature which was encountered in Trench 3 at the end of 2003.
Removing the fill of another Miller trench in Trench 5
Elsewhere in the trench more painted plaster, presumably from the robbed out back chamber wall of the Multangular tower, has been recovered together with a simple copper-alloy Roman ring and some coins, yet to be identified. A second narrow trench, parallel with that following the wall of the Multangular Tower and presumably excavated by Miller in the 1920s, was found to have largely removed the medieval column foundation in the centre of the trench.
Possible Roman earring from Trench 3
In this new trench the most recent landscaping deposits have been removed. This has revealed a gravel surface alongside the foundations of the Multangular Tower, which seems to have been part of a display of the interior of the tower post-dating Miller’s 1920s excavations.
We are now resigned to the rain and our steady progress continued, although the shelter over Trench 4 is only just up to the task of keeping the trench dry! Total visitor numbers neared 15,000.
Time continued to be spent this week examining the turf and clay construction deposits on the Roman rampart. Amongst the dumped material was found the neck of a large, fine flagon, which impressed trainees and visitors alike.
The Roman flagon found in Trench 3
Carefully excavating the Roman flagon
Attempts to reach the bottom of the foundation pit, where a supporting column of the medieval hospital once stood, have still been frustrated as it is very deep! Excavation of this feature began in 2003, but had to be halted as it was too deep to excavate safely until the surrounding surface (the Roman rampart) had been lowered. It is likely that the end is near and we will be down to natural there soon. This foundation contained fragments of glazed flanged roofing tile, an unusual form of roofing dating to the 11th and 12th centuries. This suggests there was an important building on the site at this time – but does the presence of this tile in the foundations of the first stone infirmary mean that it was derived from an even earlier hospital building?
Glazed flanged tile from Trench 3
Below the Victorian garden levels in this trench, a yard surface comprising stone, cobbles and lots of broken tiles was encountered. This might relate to the post-Dissolution period use of the site for a variety of industrial purposes; the yard surfaces were made up with the remains of the destroyed hospital. Other pockets of such industry have been encountered elsewhere on the site in previous seasons, but their extent and purpose has yet to be determined.
A copper alloy pin from Trench 5
The later Roman rampart is clearly evident now in this trench and, as in Trench 3, efforts are being made to understand the method of rampart construction. A further coin (yet to be identified) and a copper alloy pin were recovered from this rampart material. Two large pieces of plaster with some form of foliage decoration, have been carefully lifted by our conservation team. Work on consolidating what is becoming a very important assemblage of Roman painted plaster continues in the laboratory and we will bring you images when they are available.
The trench dug by Miller in the 1920s inside the bastion part of the Multangular Tower is now being investigated. The part of the trench to the east, inside the rear compartment of the tower, has been de-turfed ready for further investigation. A surprising encounter was the remains of part of a cow – perhaps quite a recent cow – whose presence just beneath a small Roman stone coffin has yet to explained!
A general view of Trench 6, within the Multangular Tower
Cow bones under excavation in Trench 6
Work will continue to investigate the floor surfaces and the foundations associated with the Multangular Tower and, as work progresses, it is hoped we will find the timber piles supporting the wall foundations to which Miller referred to in his excavation report.
One word will sum up week 9 on site. Rain!
Rain forced us to close the site to the public for three days; rain brought down the cover on Trench 3; rain caused a section to collapse in Trench 5; rain filled up every pit and cut feature on site and threatened to turn the excavation into a quagmire. Things are now drying out, however, and the site is fully up and running again. Only three weeks to go – can we get back on schedule?
The new Trench 3 shelter takes shape
Little happened in this trench as staff and placements battled to sorted out the cover and get the rainwater out of the trench. In the brief time available it was possible to examine further the construction of the ramparts. An interesting situation is developing in the north-west corner of the trench where it appears that part of the rampart might have slumped into an underlying feature. This will not be understood until excavation has continued into these lower levels. Natural still has not been reached in the bottom of the large pier base pit – which is now full of water…..
The cover in Trench 4 was the only one which managed to stay in place during the downpour, allowing work there to continue. As the 16th century deposits resulting from the demolition of the medieval hospital were cleared away, evidence for the construction cut of the medieval stone-lined drain was encountered. This drain, some 800 years after its construction, coped with the deluge from the heavens much better than its 20th century equivalents, cheerfully carrying the water away from the sites as it was intended to do by the monks who built it!
A domed bone object, perhaps a counter, from Trench 4
Here too the rain stopped play for a period as sections began to collapse and the covers could not cope. Nonetheless more wall plaster is still coming out of the trench. YAT conservator Erica Paterson and conservation student Karl Knauer were called onto site urgently to ‘lift’ a number of large fragments of painted Roman wall plaster. Fragments of painted and plain plaster were found jumbled together, many lying face down or on their sides The diggers described the plaster as being so fragile it was ‘like digestive biscuits’ and had obviously suffered cracking and breakage when dumped, not helped by the wet weather on site had made the porous material even softer and more difficult to handle.
Conservators lifting wall plaster from Trench 5
Two large fragments of plaster approximately 30 x 40 cm were uncovered face down in the trench and the aim was to lift them intact so that any surviving painted design could be saved for full study. Because of their fragile and fragmented state the conservators applied strips of – bandage impregnated with plaster – similar to that used in hospital for setting broken limbs. Once set, this created a rigid cast around the plaster fragments. Thin metal baking sheets proved useful in separating the plaster from the underlying soil. These were pushed horizontally underneath the layers of plaster and then the whole block of soil and plaster was lifted onto wooden boards. Once back in the laboratory the supported fragments could be turned over and the slow and painstaking process of removing soil to reveal the hidden painted surfaces could begin. Conservation placement student Karl Knauer from the Winterthur/University of Delaware M.S. Program in Art Conservation in the U.S. learned the art of on-site lifting from lab staff and is now continuing work on the plaster as one of his special projects.
Karl explains the process…..
A fragment of wall plaster
The next step will be to consolidate the crumbly and fragmented plaster with an appropriate synthetic resin, then to provide suitable packaging so the pieces can be stored safely yet be easily accessible for viewing.”As the plaster pieces were face-down in the trench, turning the “block lifts” over was naturally the first step in cleaning them. The soil (which had been below the painted surface prior to turning the plaster over) was removed methodically with palette knives, scalpels and brushes. Slowly, the painting became evident – and a large section of red border design was uncovered. An exciting orange-coloured area of the plaster revealed itself, as well – indicating that the design motif may have combinations of geometric and curvilinear patterns in a variety of colours. It will certainly be interesting to see if these pieces can come together and give a more complete picture of how the mural would originally have appeared!”
Bizarrely, wall plaster appears to be in the fortress rampart as well as within the Multangular Tower. This would indeed be strange and the picture will become clearer once further work has been done.
The backfill of the 1920’s trench has now been completely removed. Beneath this an area of mortared rubble confirmed that we had located the position of another column in the medieval hospital, which clearly did extend right up to the Multangular Tower.
Work continues in Miller’s trench to get to the timber piles but, as everywhere, the rain sodden ground is making progress difficult. In the eastern part of the trench, initial examination of the layers below the modern turf shows that, so far, they are all 20th century.
Removing modern deposits in Trench 6. The water filled cut (background) is the Miller trench (partially excavated).
At least the rain wasn’t quite so tropical this week! The site was closed to the public again for one day, but visitor numbers were over 1,300 nevertheless, bringing the total to over 15,000. The British trainees were supported by a strong American contingent, mostly here for their second week.
Excavation of the rampart deposits in Trench 3 continued. However, there are signs that we are nearing the base of the rampart; there is a fine cobble surface appearing, and the deposits towards the rear of the rampart appear to be filling a ditch running parallel to the fortress wall. Perhaps these features will prove to be a surface and a roadside ditch which pre-date the rampart.
The rampart and cobble feature under excavation in Trench 3.
At the northern end of Trench 4, a large cut filled with mortar was found. This could be the demolished internal wall in the medieval hospital, which was found in Trench 1 in 2001.
In Trench 5 the excavation of the painted wall plaster continued. This is now a very thick layer overall, and it is increasingly difficult to see this as gradual collapse of plaster within the Multangular Tower.
In Trench 6, modern deposits were removed from the eastern area. However the main effort was dedicated to the re-excavation of the 1920s trench in the western area, where we hoped to re-locate timber piles beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower; extraction of any piles could produce tree-ring dates that might date the construction of the Tower to within a year. Trainees Gabriel Gibson and Alex Schwartz deserve special praise for their tremendous efforts in removing the fill of the 1920s trench, which had to be shored to make the excavation safe, and had to be pumped out regularly as the trench filled with ground water – the wet extreme of urban archaeology. They were finally rewarded by the sight of substantial timber piles still in place beneath the Tower wall. Now all we have to do is dig even deeper to extract the timbers!
A dry week at last! Everything, from moving around site, was so much less trying, and so an even better time was had by all. It seems the holiday period in the USA is over, as our American representation has ended; however the British trainees were joined by two Danes. The site remained closed to visitors for two days while the site recovered, but after much effort from the guides we were able to re-open the site and almost 1,400 people came through the doors, bringing the total to nearly 17,000.
A Roman glass bead
Another series of sloping rampart deposits, mostly ash and charcoal, have been encountered. There is still no sign of the natural ground surface, and the trench is getting deeper every day. This is not what was expected!
A fragment of beautiful Roman vessel glass
The mortar filled cut identified last week has proved to be very deep. This feature is thought to be the result of robbing of the walls of the medieval infirmary; hopefully, we will find the intact foundation beneath.
Excavation of the layers of wall plaster continued, producing further examples of painted decoration. A near complete mortarium bowl was found. Re-excavation of the parallel modern trenches showed that they were dug to either side of a concrete slab – the foundations for the south wall of the Multangular Tower have been found at last! Apparently the (probably 1920s) excavators had followed the wall along its inner and outer faces. The medieval column base foundation was found to rest partly on the edge of this Roman foundation – another case of the medieval builders utilising the Roman structures where it suited them.
Wall plaster found, and a mortarium under excavation
The highlight here was the extraction of three timber piles from beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower, a reward for the tremendous efforts put in to recover these timbers in a deep and very wet trench. Our joy was somewhat tempered when the YAT wood specialist, Steve Allen, identified the timbers as alder. Alder does not produce a consistent growth pattern every year, and so is useless for tree-ring dating. Nevertheless, the timbers display interesting evidence of Roman carpentry techniques, which will no doubt be the subject of a web diary update in the months to come.
Piles being excavated and examined
In the eastern part of the trench the early 20th century gravel surface already found in the western part was removed. However the layers below are modern in date and very thick, indicating the 1920s excavations were quite extensive.
The final public week of the project! Over 1,000 people visited the site on the last day, helping to boost the weekly total to almost 2,500. The season total was just under 19,500, almost the same as last year despite being the generally poor weather and being closed for the better part of a week. Many former trainees and placements returned this week, hoping to witness the major discoveries that always turn up at the end of a dig. The weather was good again, allowing us to make us much progress as possible.
In Trench 3, it now seems that a low bank had been laid down at the beginning of the rampart construction to form the rear of the rampart base. This may have had the dual role of marking the limit of the rampart for the builders, and retaining the body of the rampart. The concave surfaces of the rampart deposits being excavated are partly due to their lying against this bank, although it still seems they are also subsiding into a cut beneath the rampart.
The concave rampart deposits in Trench 3. The water-filled hole is the base of the medieval column foundation pit
In Trench 4 the mortar-filled robber trench was emptied, revealing a cobble foundation. This foundation resembles the cobble foundation found in Trench 1 in 2001, and apparently formed the south-east end of the medieval hospital infirmary from about 1100 until the building was extended to the south-east in around 1250. As this foundation was at the maximum safe depth limit, it was decided to concentrate our efforts on investigating the layers lying between this structure and the stone-lined drain to the south-east, which presumably pre-date the infirmary.
Excavating possible pre-infirmary deposits, cut by the stone-lined drain (to rear of trench)
In Trench 5 the bottom of the wall plaster layers ‘inside’ the Multangular Tower was reached. Beneath were various thin layers including gravel and clay, indicating these were floor deposits within the tower. Hopefully, study of the finds from these layers will tell us when these floors were laid down, and what kind of activities took place in this building.
The mortarium found in Trench 5 last week, after cleaning
A narrow cut was found, evidently the north-west side of the ‘L-shaped’ feature found in Trench 3. This is thought to be the base of a flight of steps that allowed the defenders of the fortress to reach the battlements quickly. However the corner of this feature overlay the south-east corner of the Multangular Tower foundation, which means the rear of the tower must have been dismantled before the timber staircase was constructed. The dating of this staircase feature is now crucial; if it is Roman in date, it means the rear of the Multangular Tower was demolished during the Roman period, while the front of the tower remained and is still standing!
At the west end of Trench 6 our attention turned to the deposits through which Miller had dug his trench to expose the timber piles. These deposits, well over 1m deep, are clearly not natural; indeed they are dumps of Roman waste material. It seems the original Roman ground surface, which consisted of sand over clay, sloped down steadily westwards to the River Ouse from this point. It therefore proved necessary to form an artificial terrace at this point before the Multangular Tower could be constructed. Hopefully the finds recovered from these deposits, including leather and wood, will help to date the construction of the Tower more closely – almost compensating for the failure to obtain tree-ring dates from the piles!
Roman dump deposits, cut through by the foundations of the Multangular Tower (left), visible in the side of Miller’s trench. The scale rests on probable natural sand
At the east end of the trench, a large mass of mortared limestone rubble was found. Much of this had apparently been removed during Miller’s excavations, but it seems likely that this material originally filled the entire compartment. The best explanation we can offer at present is that the Roman deposits into which the foundations of the Multangular Tower had been dug into at this point proved unstable, and had to be replaced with something more solid. The construction and maintenance of this tower is proving to be a much more complex operation than we had previously thought.
Although the site was now closed to the public, a small team remained to tie up a few loose ends prior to backfilling the site. That was the plan anyway.
A Roman bone fitting with one copper alloy river still in place
In Trench 3, the ash and charcoal deposits were found to be filling a large, irregular 1m deep pit. The function and date of this feature is at present uncertain. It could be a prehistoric feature; it may be associated with activity taking place against the inside of the first Roman (turf) rampart of the fortress; or it could still be a quarry pit, used to extract material to form a marker bank at the rear of the second rampart. The second option is favoured at present, and it could mean that the cobble surfaces and stone features found above the charcoal layers also represent activity contemporary with the first rampart. The pit was cut into natural sandy subsoil over glacial clay. We had reached the bottom of Trench 3, some 3.3m below the current ground level!
The lowest deposit in the pit under excavation
In Trench 4, what was meant to be a cursory investigation of the medieval cobble wall foundation revealed a substantial mortared stone wall beneath! This was a pleasant surprise, as taken with the evidence from Trenches 1 and 2 it offers a plausible construction sequence for the infirmary. Apparently the mortared wall in Trench 4 joined with the Roman interval tower SW6 to the south-west and formed the south-east end of the original infirmary (around 1100). The massive cobble foundation found in Trenches 1 and 4 is evidently a replacement south-east infirmary wall, indicating that Tower SW6 was demolished some time between about 1100 and 1250. Then the infirmary was extended to the south-west, on massive concrete and rubble foundations, around 1250.
A detailed view of the original infirmary wall (under the scale), buried by the later cobble foundation
In Trench 5, excavation of the deposits overlying the foundations of the Multangular Tower and cut by the possible timber staircase feature produced a wide range of Roman finds. The most intriguing was a bone counter, inscribed with decoration and Latin text on both sides, which is almost identical with a group of counters found in London; plenty of scope for research there!
A melon bead, and decorated counter with the legend IVNIII
A revelation – the deposits containing wall plaster appear to fill a large pit situated over the foundations of the Multangular Tower. The explanation favoured at present is that the rear of the tower was dismantled, possibly soon after it was built, due to structural instability (see Week 12, Trench 6). A rampart was then built against the surviving front half of the tower, forming a continuous rampart around the west corner of the defences. Access to the rampart via the Multangular Tower was no longer possible, hence the construction of a timber staircase onto the rampart as indicated in Trenches 3 (in 2003) and 5. When these changes took place, and how the front of the Multangular Tower was used thereafter, requires careful study of the excavation data.
View of the Multangular Tower looking west, showing the continuation of the south wall foundation in Trench 5
This scenario also has implications for the medieval infirmary. It would mean that there was no Roman tower to form the north-west end of the infirmary. The column base foundation found in Trench 5 would represent the continuation of the vaulted undercroft over the former position of the tower and presumably right up to the north-west fortress wall. In this case, the length of the infirmary would have been about 47m, rather than the 29m indicated by the 19th century excavators; a truly massive building.
Beneath the rampart and cut by the foundations of the Multangular Tower was a series of deposits including a cobble surface; these deposits are presumably contemporary with the first fortress rampart. They overlaid a possible buried soil overlying natural sand. A small pit or post-hole, cutting the buried soil, could be prehistoric in date. Anyway, we had reached the bottom of Trench 5.
In Trench 6, the dump layers in the western part of the trench were excavated down to natural sand. They were very organic, and contained wood fragments and blocks of turf. Are these the remains of the turf rampart, spread out to form the terrace on which the Multangular Tower was built? Close examination of the tower foundations in the eastern part of the trench indicated that they had been dug into natural sand. This suggests the original ground surface in the west corner of the fortress was quite flat, but then dropped off steeply down to the River Ouse. Hence the need to provide a terrace on which to build the projecting front of the Multangular Tower, and so the need to support the projecting front on timber piles in such unstable ground. It also might explain the omission of timber piles beneath the rear of the tower by the Roman builders as belief that the flat, sandy subsoil could support the weight of the tower – mistaken as it turns out.
And so the excavation finished, followed by a week of dismantling the site and backfilling the trenches. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the project such a success: the project team of course; the YAT staff who helped with the off-site activities; the 65,000 people who paid to see the dig; and not least, the 800 or so trainees who carried out most of the actual digging and paid for the privilege. Now starts the assessment of the stratigraphy, finds and environmental evidence. No doubt this will fill in many of the blanks in the story we have pieced together, as well as overturning many of the hypotheses that have been formulated over the past 4 years! Watch out for updates on the assessment, and news of how the results will be published.
The final team photo
That’s a summer in a post! I hope you enjoyed this digital archaeological dig through our past blogs, wonder if you could create a stratigraphic matrix for it…